The Jersey City Council voted 7-2 to approve a binding referendum asking residents to vote this November on moving city elections to the fall – starting in 2017.
Both Jersey City Council and the Mayor Steven Fulop Administration believe that combining municipal elections with general elections in November would increase voter participation and substantially increase taxpayer savings by eliminating additional expenses from the elections in May.
Before the votes, Scott Gawrych asked the council members not be the mayor’s “puppets” claiming that moving municipal elections was Fulop’s backup plan “when he loses the primary for governor.”
“If you’re truly interested in increasing voter turnout, you engage the constituents. This is a lazy move to dovetail on a popular election so that every dollar you spend trying to get things going your way, has a higher return on investment. That’s why,” he said when addressing the council.
As far as savings in combining two elections, Gawrych told city council that the dollar value must already be “earmarked to go towards something else.”
He asked city council where the talk of the savings was when the city spent over “$600,000 in raises and giving out tax abatements like candy?”
“If you cite that savings is a reason to vote yes, then every ordinance going forward better rely on savings.”
He also challenged the city council that if they believe there is no conflict of interest between Fulop’s expected run for governor and moving the elections to November, then they should wait until his term is over to move the elections to the fall.
Although political analysts across the state nearly unanimously agree that Fulop will throw his hat in the ring for the 2017 Democratic primary for governor, Fulop’s office have previously stated that he has advocated moving the municipal elections to November since he was a councilman.
Bill Matsikoudis, the attorney who challenged the language of the non-binding referendum to voters during the November 2015 elections, asked if the elections will be changed from non-partisan to partisan and if there will be an interpretive statement regarding moving the run-offs from June to December.
Corporation Council Jeremy Farrell responded that “the Faulkner Act allows for a non-partisan election in May and November” and it “prescribes, if you’re going to have run-off elections how that run-off is calculated if the elections are in May or if the elections are in November.”
When it came time to vote, Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano first motioned to include an interpretive statement, agreeing with Matsikoudis.
Although it was seconded by Ward D Councilman Michael Yun, the motioned was denied by a vote of 7-2.
For final passage, Ward D Councilman Michael Yun called the “$400,000” in possible savings “meaningless” if combining non-partisan and partisan elections will just cause confusion for voters in November.
Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro quoted President Obama’s State of the Union Address before voting yes to the ordinance.
“We’ve got to make it easier to vote. Not Harder. This is America. We want to make it easier for people to participate” and that’s what this binding referendum is all about, increasing citizen participation. There’s no better way to boost turn out in our elections on mayoral and council elections than moving it from May to November.”
Boggiano and Yun still voted against the ordinance.